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Montana Elected Officials Cheer Census Deadline Extension

A photo from the Census Bureau asking "How will you be filling out your Census?"

Montana elected officials are cheering a federal court order that extends the deadline of the 2020 census by a month. The Trump administration is appealing the ruling.

Ahead of the Thursday ruling pushing the deadline through the end of October, Montana Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester signed onto a bill that would mandate an Oct. 31 deadline.

Both say the legislation is needed to ensure all Montanans are counted.

“Senator Daines believes the field data collection deadline should be extended to October 31. However, because of the potential for this case to remain in the courts longer, the Senator will keep fighting to ensure Montanans have enough time to complete the census and continue to push his legislation that would extend the census deadline,” a spokesperson for Sen. Daines wrote in an email.

“This ruling restores Census operations to their originally planned deadline, and it’s the right call to make sure every Montanan is counted. But the Administration’s appeal is another blatant attempt to undermine the Census and keep folks—particularly Native American communities across our state—from participating, which puts Montana’s chances of gaining a second Congressional seat in jeopardy. Congress needs to put this issue to rest, and I urge Senator McConnell and my Republican colleagues to stop blocking my bipartisan legislation to give the Census Bureau the time it needs to get the job done,” Sen. Tester said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte wrote, “With so much at stake for Montana – from getting our fair share of federal funding to more representation in Congress – Greg believes all Montanans must be counted fully and accurately, and thinks the census deadline should be October 31.”

In press releases, Democrats Gov. Steve Bullock and Montana Complete Count Committee chairman Lieutenant Gov. Mike Cooney say the extra time to complete the decennial headcount will help make up for time lost to the coronavirus pandemic.

“A complete count in the 2020 Census is a foundational part of shaping Montana’s next decade,” Bullock wrote in a statement. “More time will help our state regain some of the ground we’ve lost due to COVID-19 to secure our fair share of federal funding for critical things like health care, schools and roads, and to ensure our local school and voting districts accurately reflect the people who live in them. An accurate count of our residents could even amount to more representation in our democracy for Montanans. I strongly urge the federal administration not to discount entire communities in rural states like Montana and let this decision stand.”

“We are pulling out all the stops to encourage every Montanan to make sure they’re counted in this once-in-a-decade opportunity, and we will take full advantage of every day we can get,” said Cooney. “With all the goal-post-moving throughout this process, it’s critical to stay focused on what’s truly important: ensuring Montanans are represented at every level of government. And that starts with a complete Census count.”

Bullock announced Friday (9/25) he’s allocating $130,000 more in federal coronavirus relief funds to the state Commerce Department’s outreach efforts targeting low-response areas of the state, particularly in rural counties and tribal nations.

The disbursement is in addition to $530,500 in federal aid Bullock allocated in June for census promotion and outreach.

The decennial headcount determines the amount of federal funding Montana will receive over the next 10 years for health care, schools and local government. It also serves as the basis for how legislative districts may be redrawn and could secure Montana a second seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Montana continues to lag behind the rest of the country, with roughly 7 percent of households remaining to be counted.